Thursday, February 02, 2006

Using Literature Circles for The River (by Gary Paulsen)

The activities that I will be discussing would fit well as literature circle activities during the first half of the novel.

In our class, Cathy had assigned the roles of "The Highlighter", "The Relator", and "The Question Maker". These are great roles to use for any novel. I thought
that I would try to come up with different roles that can be used for literature circles.

The role of "In a Character's Shoes" could be given to students to relate themselves to one of the characters. For The River, you might want to narrow this down even further and ask them specifically to put themselves into Brian's shoes
and think about what they would have brought along on their journey for survival and why. By putting themselves into the shoes of others, students can learn to reflect on novels through different perspectives.

The role of "Artist" could be given to students to draw an illustration of a specific scene that was meaningful for them. I find this to be an effective role for The River because emotions and pain play a big role in this book. It would be interesting to see how different students can illustrate the hardships that Brian and Derek faced in a drawing. Again, this is another method for students to relate to the book in a way that they otherwise may not have the opportunity to do so.

The role of "Word Detective" could be given to students to find words in the book that they are unfamiliar with or that they find interesting. It would be these students' responsibility to find these words in the dictionary and explain the meaning of these words within their groups. For The River, some students may not even know what a hatchet is so this could be one word that you can help them to understand by allowing them the opportunity to look it up in the dictionary. You could have the students create "The River Word Detective Book" where students can write definions of new words that they have learned. This is an adaptation of the Word Wall concept.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Some Thoughts on "Developing Teaching Strategies" (Course Reading)

I found this article to be very useful and informative. As a student teacher, I find myself constantly thinking of innovative ways to teach language arts and to integrate literacy across the curriculum. I liked this reading because it shared with us the "what", "why" and "how" parts of choosing teaching strategies for literature activties.

We have read many readings over the course of our program on the benefits of constructivist learning. For myself, I have used this for science, social studies, and math, but not for language arts. After talking to others, I find this to be a similar trend. Why is it that we can find innovative ways to engage our students in these subjects but not in literacy? I appreciate this article as it provides many teaching strategies that can be used to promote constructivist learning, but also strategies for direct teaching, independent learning, and group work. I think it is important to use all of these learning models in our teaching repretoire as it accommodates for the learning styles of many students in our classrooms.

After reading this article, I feel more confident to integrate literacy across the curriculum.

One idea that I could think of that was missing in this reading was the use of comic strips as a teaching strategy. In my last practicum, I saw that many of my students were really interested in comics and often chose these as self selected reading
material. I thought that I would try to work with this rather than think of it as non-academic reading. I had students respond to stories that they were reading by creating comic strips for specific scenes. When I worked with grade 3's, I also had them do creative story writing by creating their own comic strips. I felt that this allowed students to be creative in two ways: in art and in writing. I found this to be a fun and engaging way for students to respond to stories that we were reading in class. I also think it is important for us to consider the interests of our students.

After reading this article, I would like to share one important lesson that I have learned. I have learned that it is a learning experience for me to be a risk taker in my teac
hing strategies. After reading this article, I would like to try out new methods to see what works and what doesn't work well for my class. For some classes, group work may be something that will have to be practiced many times before actually using it. For others, students may not respond well to dramatized lessons. I will only know once I try. I have learned that I may need to step out of my comfort zone and try strategies such as Readers Theatre and using e-books. By doing this, I may encourage those students who would otherwise not respond well to literature to find enjoyment from reading. I would also like to say that it is important for us to appreciate the value of read alouds for both primary and intermediate students.

While analyzing this article, I went on the internet to find helpful links for all of you of creative language arts lesson ideas. I hope these are helpfu
l to you all. I would also recommend referring back to this reading in your practicums to help you to come up with innovative ways to teach literacy.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

My Read Aloud

The story that I chose for my read aloud was "The Wolf Who Cried Boy" by Bob Hartman (2002). This is a story that looks at the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" from the wolf's perspective. My group really enjoyed this book. It is very funny! The illustrations are also humorous. I would use this book in a primary classroom when discussing the importance of telling the truth and also for enjoyment of literature. You could also use this story after reading "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and use a Venn Diagram to compare/contrast the two stories.

I found this book to be a good one for read alouds because there are three main characters and great opportunities for using expression in your voice. I enjoyed this book for this particular reason. There was lots of dialogue and with facial and voice expressions, I think that this book could be a great read aloud.

For more detail about this book, please read my list of recommended books.

Multicultural Book

Book: The Bonsai Bear
Author: Bernard Libster

Illustrator: Aries Cheung

Year of Publication: 1999

Publisher: Illumination Arts Publishing Company Ltd.

I found this to be an interesting assignment as it encouraged me to dig deeper into the stories I would read to my students. This assignment really opened up my eyes to inclusive education practices in a way that I would have otherwise not paid much attention to. As a child, I can admit that I noticed the lack of characters of diverse cultures in the story books that I read. However, I never paid too much
attention to the text, worldviews, and gender biases in the books I read.

The book that I selected for this assignment is The Bonsai Bear by Bernard Libster. This book is also in my recommended children's literature list. This story is based in a remote Japanese village many years ago. The two main characters are a married couple; Kyomi (the wife) and Issa (the husband). They do not have any children but really want children . Issa is well known for his bonsai trees, which are trees/shrubs grown in a container. In the Japanese culture, growing bonsai trees is considered to be an art. Issa sculpts his bonsai trees to remain small, no matter how old they get. One day, their friends bring an orphan bear cub to them. The couple nurture the bear and treat it as their child. Issa uses his bonsai technquies on the bear cub to keep it from growing and the two become very close. It is not until later that they realize that the bear should be free to be itself in its natural environment.

At the beginning of this book, there is a description of Bonsai and its origin. I found this to be very informative as it allowed me to better understand the story. I would have otherwise just interpreted Bonsai as being gardening and nothing more than that. When we share knowledge like this with our students, we are promoting cultural awareness as well as helping them to understand the links between culture and art.

The choice of words used in this book created images in my mind of the beauty of n
ature. The choice of words were very respectful. The Japanese words used were supported with their English translations and these words were not merely "stuck in" to create a Japanese flavor to the book. I did not find the illustrations to show signs of stereotypes. The clothing worn by the characters are of traditional Japanese cultural clothes. These are illustrated beautifully, and since the setting is of a remote Japanese village many years ago, I feel that this was not a stereotype of the Japanese culture. Being East Indian, I can say that people in the villages in India to this day wear traditional clothes compared to those in the city where they may wear clothes just like you and I. For me personally, then, I felt that the clothing further enriched the cultural symbolism of the Bonsai in this story. The illustrations of houses and gardens used in this story were large and elegant. I noticed this because I have seen many other picture books where the houses of foreign countries are illustrated as smaller than those in North America, hence depicting an image of poverty.

The situations that occur within this book are not realistic. However, the message that the author is trying to convey is realistic. In my opinion, I feel that the message of this story is that we have to allow people to have the freedom to be th
emselves and to love themselves. This book, then, displays concepts and world views that can be found across many cultures. I believe that freedom is an innate desire, although may be influenced by our religion or culture. However, I feel that the concept of identity stays within us.

This book allows students to learn a lesson through the eyes of characters of a visibile minority.
This book would be great to use in the primary grades for teaching the importance of being ourselves and to respect each other's differences. This book could also lead itself to creating bonsai trees in your school garden and to further study the Japanese culture. Therefore, this book could be integrated into Personal Planning, Social Studies, Science and Language Arts. I recommend this book!

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Reflection on Mina's Spring of Colors

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was one of the novels I had read over the winter break and when my sister came down to visit from Vancouver, she also read it and enjoyed it!

There are many reasons that I enjoyed this novel. Firstly, I could relate to Mina and the feelings she was going through. I will discuss this further in the next paragraph. I also enjoyed the book because it was an "easy to read" book with relatively large print. I think that students would find this helpful as well. I liked how Rachna Gilmore was able to put us inside of Mina's mind and experience her every emotion. I really appreciated this book because the concepts of Holi can be applied to almost any culture. My parents describe it as the "Indian version of Thanksgiving" and I think that we all are thankful for many things in our lives and try our best to give up on grudges we have against others.

From the roles of the "Highlighter" and the "Relator", I would have to say the most meaningful part of the book for me was from page 131 when Nanaji says "Mina, this too is part of life. Just -- " I know what he's going to say, I just know it. "Be aware." I hiccup.
I think that this was a big realization for Mina and that it truly is just a phase in life that most children go through. I know for myself that I came to be more accepting of who I am and what my culture is all about as I got older. To be honest, as a child I used to be very embarressed going out in public with my Indian suits on and now, I go to the shops after going to the temple with my Indian suit on and don't think twice as to what others may be thinking. Every child goes through phases when they might be embarressed about something personal, such as a parent, their culture, etc.

One of the questions that I had prepared for class today was, "Why do you think the story is called Mina's Spring of Colors?" My group and I had an interesting discussion about this. Some thought it represented Holi as the festival of colors. Others went more deeper into it and thought that it reflected the gathering of everybody during Holi, and in the case of Mina's party, this included the gathering of all people of all walks of life. I agree with this.

There are many ways that this story can be used in the classroom. I like the idea of using literature circles and if I was using this novel as part of a novel study, I would have the students meet twice a week to participate in literature circles. I believe that this is especially important when we are using a multicultural story such as this one because it allows students of all cultures to give their interpretation of the story. Someone who is of Indian descent would probably have so much more to say about Holi, but at the same time, someone who is of another cultural background would probably be able to relate this story in many ways to their own festivals and ways of life.

Another literature based activity that I would use is a narrative diary. I would have students pretend that they are one of the students at the Holi party and to write diary entries about their experience before the party and at the party. I think that this allows students to put themselves in the shoes of others'. This would give students an opportunity to write about their hesitation, perhaps, to attend the party. This would also allow students to learn about adjectives that describe our feelings and emotions. As a teacher, I could start a word wall with these adjectives.

A research project could also be done as a library assignment where students can research about Holi. This would be a bit tricky as it may be difficult to separate the religious aspect of the festival. However, if prepared with a clear criteria, I think that one of us could do this in our class!

As I mentioned in Rachel J's blog, I would use splatter paint and decorate the walls with this art work. Another culminating activity can be hosting our own festival of colors
in our classrooms. This would include the students being active participants in the entire planning process of hosting a party, which will teach them organizational and planning skills. This party could include food, music, parent volunteers, and activities such as tye dying t-shirts.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Children's Literature Bibliography

I hope this list of recommended books helps you in the classroom or with your children at home. I am going to be adding to this list for the remainder of this course, so feel free to check back to see what I have added.

Book #1

Title: The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds A Book about How Living Things Grow (1995)

Authors: Joanna Cole, Patricia Relf, Bruce Degan

Description of Book:
This faction book takes you on another journey in Ms. Fizzle's class. This time, the school bus turns into a lady bug and takes the studen
ts through an adventure inside a flower. The students learn about the different parts oof a flower and the plant life cycle. There is also a TV show that accompanies this book, which is great for visual learners.
Grade Level Suitability: Grades 3 and 4

Links to BC Curriculum: Science (Life Sciences)

Book #2

Title: The Hundred Dresses (re-published 2004)

Author: Eleanor Estes, Louis Slobodkin

Award: Newberry Award

Description of Book: My last cooperating teacher used this book for her novel
study, and it was liked amongst the boys and girls in the class. This book is about a girl Wanda, who is teased for wearing the same dress everyday to school. She tells the other students that she has a hundred dresses at home to hide her embarressment. Students also tease her about her foreign last name. This book teaches students to respect each other's differences, and to have compassion for each other. I think this is a great book to use at the beginning of the school year in the intermediate grades since students are so concerned about making friends and looking "cool".

Grade Level Suitability: Intermediate grades (grades 4, 5, or 6)

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts (Self and Society) Personal Planning (Mental Well Being)

Book #3

Title: Adventures in the Middle Ages (2000)

Author: Linda Bailey

Award: Red Cedar Book Award

Description of Book: This is a great book that eliminates the stereotypes
of the Middle Ages as being a fairy tale with castles, romance, etc. to uncover the facts of the Middle Ages. This story is about two children who go back in time to really see and feel what the people during the Middle Ages went through. This includes hard labor work and the harsh realities of being a servant. This book is great to teach children about how to separate the facts from the fiction of our history.

Grade Level Suitability: Grades 5 - 7

Links to BC Curriculum: Social Studies (Applications of Social Studies and
Society and Culture)
Book #4

Title: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1976)

Author: Judy Blume

Description of Book: If you've read other books by Judy Blume, this book is another one of her hilarious books about Peter and his younger brother Fudge. Peter.
who is now in fourth grade, has to go through everybody thinking his younger brother is just so cute but really, Peter finds him absolutely annoying! Fudge draws on Peter's homework, throws tantrums and a whole bunch more! This is a great book for children who have younger siblings and for those who can relate to the responsibilities that go with being the eldest child in the family. I enjoyed this book for this particular reason because as a child, I always felt that my younger sister got away with everything! So, I feel that other children will be able to relate to this story, as well as other stories of Fudge and Peter by Judy Blume.

Grade Level Suitability: Grades 4 or 5

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts (Comprehend and Respond -- Engagement and Personal Response)

Book #5

Title: Jumanji

Chris Van Allsburg (1981)

Award: Caldecott Medal

Description of Book: This is one of my favorite children's book! This is an exciting fantasy book about the adventures of a brother and sister who are bored one afternoon and decide to play a board game they find. Each part of the game comes to life in their own house, which becomes scary, dangerous, and an adventure for the two children. Jumanji is the golden city at the end of the board game, and when the sister yells out the name of the city, the game comes to an end. The children hide the book and promise to not tell anybody about it. More recently, Chris Van Allsburg published Zathura, which is a similar fantasy book. This is a great book to allow students' imagination to soar!

Grade Level Suitability: This book can be a great read aloud for students as young as grade 2. For independent reading, this book would suit grades 4 - 5.

Links to BC Curriculum: This book could lead itself to many classroom activities, such as creating your own magical board game, writing your own fantasy short story (with the higher grades), and writing step by step procedures for games that you know. This would help students to learn the concept of communicating information and writing clear and concise instructions.

I feel that this book would fit well into fine arts (Image Development and Design Strategies) and language arts (Communicate Ideas and Information -
- Composing and Creating)

Book #6

Title: The Bonsai Bear

Author: Bernard Libster (1999)

Description of Book: This is a story about a Japanese couple living in a remote Japanese village, many years ago. The husband and wife do not have any children. The husband is the Bonsai master. Bonsai are trees/shrubs grown in a container and in the Japanese culture, growing bonsai trees is considered to be
an art. The couple takes in the baby bear cub and nurture it as if it was their own child. It is not until later that they realize that the bear should be able to have its freedom to be itself. The art work in this book is excellent. The illustrator is Aries Cheung and he does an excellent job with water colors.

Grade Level Suitability: Grades 3 - 4

Links to BC Curriculum: The students could grow their own bonsai (Science: Life Sciences - Plant Life Cycle ). This would also be a great book to discuss the concept of respecting peoples' individuality (Personal Planning: Mental Well Being - Friendships).
Book #7
Title: The Wolf Who Cried Boy (2002)

Author: Bob Hartman

Description of Book: This is a funny contemporary fiction about the wolf's side to the "Boy Who Cried Wolf." This story is about a little wolf who does not like what his mother cooks for dinner because the only thing he is craving is some BOY. His parents tell him that BOYS are difficult to come across these days and that he should quit the complaining. The wolf tricks his parents that he sees a BOY
in the woods so that the food his mother is cooking can get spoiled and he can eat some delicious snacks. The parents catch on to his tricks, and when he really does see a boy, nobody believes him. It's a cute story with good potential of integrating it into a lesson on telling the truth, and on hearing stories from different points of view. If you read the Boy Who Cried Wolf on the previous day, you could also do a Venn Diagram to compare/contrast the two stories.

Grade Level Suitability: K - 3

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts (Comprehend and Respond), Personal Planning (Personal Development -- Mental Well Being)

Book #8

Title: Zz...: The Most Interesting Book You Will Ever Read About Sleep (2002)

Author: Trudee Romanek

Description of Book: This non-fiction book is a great book that provides children factual information about how the body sleeps. I used this book in a summer camp as a read aloud over a few days. Children find this book very interesting because it provides facts, gives you interesting facts about other animals and how they sleep, and provides mini-lessons (activities) to try at home. This book talks about snoring, nightmares, etc. Children love it! Trudee Romanek also has other similar books, such as Achoo! The Most Interesting Book You Will Ever Read about Germs, and Wow! The Most Interesting Book You Will Ever Read about The Five Senses, among many other science related books.

Grade Level Suitability: I have used this as a read aloud for primary aged children, however, for independent reading I recommend grades 5 - 7.

Links to BC Curriculum: Science (Life Sciences - The Human Body), Language Arts (Comprehend and Respond: Engagement and Personal Response)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Some Thoughts on The Case of The Three Robbers

I want to share some thoughts about this case because I find it rather interesting. I like this case because I can see myself thinking the same things as the teacher in this case and feeling a little scared that I am not getting through my daily lessons because the children seem to be "getting off topic".

One of my personal weaknesses is not taking advantage of teachable moments. I can recall in my very first practicum when all I could think about was getting my lesson done from introduction to conclusion in the time that I had for that subject. The clock was my worst enemy!

Too often, we are so concerned with being structured and concerned about time. I can recall doing a read aloud where I actually told the students that I could only take a few more comments about how they felt about the story and the children went "awww!!" because many of them had their hands up to share their feelings. Again, I was concerened about time. If I had given these children a chance to talk, I could have learned more about what the children took from the story and they could have started a discussion amongst themselves about the story. When I sit back and analyze this one year later, I hate myself for doing what I did!

It is important for the learning to be meaningful to the learner and the learner in this case can be either the student or the teacher.

In reality, we do have to set time limits on our units/lessons. However, there are strategies that we can use to still make the learning meaningful. For example, we can give students choices on projects that we do after reading a novel for novel study or a poem for poetry. I can recall a time when my highschool teachers gave us the option to creatively express how we felt about Romeo and Juliet. I did a collage in a large poster format with Romeo on one side, Juliet on the other, and a heart with a daggar going through it in the middle. To me, this expressed my views of the book. Others went on to write an essay, and others did poems to express their thoughts. I think it is important to allow for choice on literature review projects because everybody interprets the literature differently.

With this said, we need to still set out criteria and a rubric that accommodates for all projects.

These were just some feelings I had about this case. I hope this suggestion is helpful to you.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My Literature Biography

I have quite an interesting relationship with reading in general. As a child, I was greatly encouraged to read for academic purposes. My dad often had us read aloud to him from Readers he had ordered for my sisters and I. I did, indeed, sign out books from the school library and public library. Some of my favourite authors as a child included Robert Munsch and Peggy Parish, who wrote the Amelia Bedelia series. Both of these authors wrote such entertaining books, and I really enjoyed the illustrations in Robert Munsch's books. The storylines were funny and I would often shake my head at the bizarre things Amelia Bedelia would do.

As I headed into the intermediate grades, I really enjoyed books such as the Babysitter Club series by Ann Martin, and the Sweet Valley Twins series by Francine Pascal. These were books about girls in their teens going through similar experiences as myself. They were also the popular books amongst the girls in my class, and I think this further encouraged me to also read them. I have three older sisters and they used to read the Sweet Valley High series, and this made me even more keen on these books. However, I was not encouraged to read for recreation purposes at home. My parents both are originally from India and they did not approve of these novels. They would often see the covers and the titles of the books and thought that they were teaching us westernized perspectives, and hence did not encourage me or my sisters to get these books from the library. At the time, I felt that this was not fair but did not do anything about it. I believe that this experience prevented me from enjoying reading. I did not see reading as being fun and instead, saw it as something that I was forced to do in school. I am ashamed to say that I probably only read one novel throughout my highschool years for recreational purposes, but this one novel is one of my favourite novels even to this day. This novel is called School Ties by William Boyd. This novel discussed the life of a Jewish student who is on a football scholarship at a private school and his hardships with dealing with racism. I think that I really enjoyed thie novel because I had an opportunity to see it "come to life" in a motion picture with some of my favourite actors, such as Brendan Fraser, Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donnell and Matt Damons. I found it to be a very touching novel.

Since reading that book, I never once picked up a novel to read for recreational purposes throughout my undergraduate degree. It was not until I was in the BEd program that I felt that I had missed out on so much wonderful literature. I took it upon myself to make it a personal goal to engage in reading of some type for recreational purposes. Hence, in September of 2005, I finally followed through with this goal by starting a mini book club with my older sister. We have bought the entire Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella and really enjoy these books. I am currently on the third book in the series and find the series very amusing! I think that part of this stems from the fact that I can understand the financial language used from my experiences taking many finance courses in my undergraduate degree. I highly recommend these books to anybody who would like to start reading for fun as I have started. They are easy to read and are a good laugh.

This concludes my experiences with literature. I know that it may shock many of you since you all think I study so much! However, it is the truth, and I can honestly say that I am enjoying to read every night before I go to bed.